Such is the tinderbox atmosphere of Washington these days that even a couple of quotes in the newspaper can prove incendiary.
And that’s especially true when anonymity is the coin of the journalistic realm.
The behind-the-scenes chatter has it that President Obama is triumphing in the PR battle over the still-closed-for-business government. And Republicans are openly suggesting that the president is prolonging this thing so he can reap the benefits in the polls (presumably before the country plunges into the abyss of default).
One such Republican is Terry Holt, who told the Wall Street Journal that “as long as the president thinks his poll numbers are going to be good, I don't expect the government to reopen.”
Now just when I might be tempted to challenge that comment comes this blind quote in the Wall Street Journal.
“Said a senior administration official: ‘We are winning...It doesn't really matter to us’ how long the shutdown lasts ‘because what matters is the end result.’”
Ding ding ding! Red siren! Official commits gaffe by saying what insiders are privately thinking!
John Boehner teed off on the quote, saying “this is not a damn game.” For one brief news cycle, the Republicans had seized the advantage.
Even the president was forced to play defense, telling reporters “there’s no winning” and “no one is winning” as long as the shutdown continues.
Another quote that got the partisans riled up was on the record. Republican Rep. Marlin Stutzman told the Washington Examiner that his party would not back down: “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”
Red alert! Red alert! The crybaby Republicans don’t even know what they want!
Democratic Sen. Patty Murray responded by offering a “group hug.”
The Indiana congressman issued a backtracking statement.
The other blind quote that got Beltway types riled up was in the New York Times, reporting on a private Senate GOP luncheon in which Ted Cruz got a tongue-lashing from several colleagues for leading them into a cul-de-sac with no exit.
“It just started a lynch mob,” a “senator who was present” told the Times.
Now the paper reported this under the soporific headline “G.O.P. Elders See Liabilities in Shutdown.”
Whereas the Huffington Post picked up the story with the more colorful “Senate Republican ‘Lynch Mob’ Rails Against Ted Cruz.”
I wonder which one got more clicks.
Obama Drops Penalty Flag
The AP interviewed President Obama about the government shutdown, his Republican opponents, health care insurance glitches, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other weighty topics.
In the last two paragraphs, he was asked about the Washington Redskins and said that he if owned a team whose name “was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it.”
Guess which comment generated headlines across the web?
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington.